British Prime Minister: 1894-1895

"Few speeches which have produced an electrical effect on an audience can bear the colourless photography of a printed record."

Archibald Philip Primrose, Earl of Rosebery and Prime Minister of Great Britain. Not one of the famous Prime Ministers of the 19th Century. He finds himself sandwiched between William Gladstone and Arthur Balfour, with Robert Cecil thrown in there for good measure, is it any wonder this short ruling Prime Minister has never really stuck in the public's mind?

It is said that he wished only three things for himself: a wealthy wife, a Derby win and to become prime minister. Read on, and find out how successful he was.

The Early Years

Primrose was born on May 7, 1847 to Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina and Lord Dalmeny. His mother was regarded as being quite the hotty, and not only that but she was the niece of William Pitt's niece and she was bridesmaid at Queen Victoria's wedding.

Primrose was educated at Christ Church, Oxford and at Eton, where he was slightly older than some of other famous boys there: Arthur Balfour and Lord Randolph Churchill (Winston Churchill's dad).

When Primrose's grandfather, Archibald John Primrose (4th Earl of Rosebery) died in 1868, he assumed his title and became the 5th Earl of Rosebery. As a lord he supported the Liberal Party and was very much in favour of social reform.

In 1878 he married the daughter of Baron Meyer Amschel de Rothschild, Hannah, and also became Lord Rector of Aberdeen. Hannah was a rich woman, actually she was the richest heiress in England. Wish 1: Granted.

A political career blooms

He was then appointed Under Secretary for the Home Office in 1881 by the then Prime Minister, William Gladstone. Rosebery's focus was in the Scottish Department. We know he had other focuses as well because his first son Lord Dalmeny, was born in January of 1882. In contrast to our modern sports people who go onto a political career after sports, Dalmeny went to politics before becoming a well known cricket player: captaining for Surrey. Poor Lady Rosebery had only a brief respite before she gave birth do a second son in December, Neil Primrose, whose career was principally political.

Rosebery resigned as Under Secretary amidst some conflict of interest issues in 1883. It seemed some people had a problem with a peer of the realm having such a position. Between jobs, Rosebery went on a world tour with Lady Rosebery.

Shortly after returning, the Tories won the General Election (1885), and he was appointed as Lord Privy Seal. What is a Lord Privy Seal? In short: not much.

Gladstone was back in government the following year and he appointed Rosebery as Foreign Secretary, it was in this role that he began to distinguish himself as future leadership potential. Whilst in negotiations with Otto von Bismarck he managed to get a surprising amount of concessions from the Count.

He was elected, in a landslide, to be chairman of London County Council in 1889. His popularity was intact when he resigned the following year to concentrate on his political career. A cruel irony because Lady Rosebery then died and Rosebery withdrew from politics for a while. Upon returning to the political arena in 1892 he was re-elected as chairman of the London County Council and was made a member of the order of the Garter. Not only that but he got his old job of Foreign Secretary when the Liberals got back in.

This time round was famous for some foreshadowing conflicts with Gladstone. Rosebery wanted Great Britain to have exclusive control of the Upper Nile Valley. His views were very imperialistic but he did manage to placate a rather tense situation with the French over Siam.

"Does this fact of your (Australia) being a nation... imply separation from the Empire? God forbid! There is no need for any nation, however great, leaving the Empire, because the Empire is a Commonwealth of Nations"

Prime Minister, by Royal decree

Rosebery was regarded as a great orator, and this no doubt helped in his intervention in the 1893 coal strike. His skills as a politician and an orator were tested to the extreme when Gladstone retired in in 1894 and Queen Victoria appointed him as the Prime Minister. Not only was Rosebery elevated to a position of power by the Empress herself, but one of his race horses won the Derby. Two wishes granted in one year. So, great year all round then! Well, not quite...

Queen Victoria's decision was initially a popular one, but there was some division in the Liberal party: some were not happy that a Prime Minister should have race horses, amongst other things. These divisions were only widened when Rosebery failed mend them; it began to look like he was not in complete control of his own government.

Rosebery was a massive fan of Oliver Cromwell. It was he that tried to get parliament to put up £500 towards a commission for a statue of Cromwell to be erected outside of Westminster Hall. Whilst he was marginally successful in doing this, the opposition was fierce (especially from the Irish members), and the issue was dropped. However an 'anonymous donor' came forward and paid for the statue in full. The anonymous donor, as everyone really knew, was Rosebery.

The divisions caught up with Rosebery in the next General Election when the Liberals were defeated in 1895. After 1 year and 109 days of premiership, it was over. Now he was leader of the opposition where he had nothing but more difficulties, he continually failed to rally a divided party and he resigned as the Liberal Leader in 1896, giving a farewell speech at the Empire Theatre.

There are two supreme pleasures in life. One is ideal, the other real. The ideal is when a man receives the seals of office from his Sovereign. The real pleasure comes when he hands them back

From Liberal to Conservative

In 1898 Gladstone died, Rosebery was a pallbearer.

It was in 1901 that Rosebery returned to politics, becoming the leader of the Liberal Imperialist division. He seemingly became less and less liberal, his progressive ideas of past were now left behind and he started voting more and more Conservative in the House of Lords, rallying against Irish Home Rule. He made some strong Imperialist speeches in 1903/4, referring to the Empire as a strong mother. And once again railed against Home Rule in Ireland. Not only that but he was publically against the Anglo-French agreement because of the handing over of Morocco, and was politically alone in this view.

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman then made a public pro-Home Rule speech in Stirling, despite a prior agreement to not make it part of the political programme. Shortly afterwards Rosebery withdrew from politics (1905)

Throughout his life he penned several monographs:

Died: May 21, 1929 (Epsom, Surrey), by all accounts a happy man.

"I must plough my furrow alone."


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